LEGAL TECH LAB — AN INTRODUCTION

Image by Tapio Kovero

Digitalization is challenging our legal system, and it’s hard for the legislative branch to keep up with the pace of disruptive technologies. Besides these challenges, technology also has a lot to offer. It enables us to automate processes that are most time-consuming, thus leaving more time for work that needs human decision-making or, perhaps more importantly, actual human interaction. Technology has made a massive impact on the access to information that all of us have: it could also improve access to justice and open the legal system to those who need legal representation the most.

The legal technology tools create a diverse set of new possibilities for legal professionals and end users of legal services, but they also raise many intriguing questions about the fundamental structure of our legal system and the system’s flexibility when it faces new technological phenomena. Once we understand the new technologies we are facing, we are closer to finding solutions for some of the pressing concerns we have these days. There is a need for a profound understanding of what we are dealing with and its implications on the legal system and the legal profession. Our legal system is not broken — it just might need a bit of fine-tuning.

Like every field of work, the legal profession has gone through some significant changes in the past few decades thanks to the internet and automation in general. But what exactly is legal technology?

According to Riikka Koulu, head of the Legal Tech Lab at the University of Helsinki, the broad definition of legal technology refers to information and communications technology tools used in legal operations and decision-making processes. The mentioned tools can be those such as software applications developed for legal practitioners or government officials, as well as decision support tools, virtual data rooms, and predictive analytics.

The Lab

The Legal Tech Lab is a non-profit interdisciplinary
pilot project at the Faculty of Law, University of
Helsinki, that examines and experiments on legal
tech and digitalization of legal practices

Legal Tech Lab’s main goal is to tackle the legal challenges related to law and digitalization. This is done through broad research projects and experiments on legal technology. We want to find out how technical innovation impacts society and what it means for individuals’ legal rights and protections. Increasing awareness of the impact of technologies on law is one of the main objectives of the Lab. This will not only help lawyers, but also policy makers and everybody navigating in the intersection of law and technology. The ethical implications of technology need to be widely discussed in a legal context. Research should be done in collaboration across different disciplines, so we won’t forget about the end users: the clients of the legal system.

Currently, research at the Legal Tech Lab focuses on five key areas:

  1. foundation of legal digitalization,
  2. algorithmic fairness and justice by design,
  3. legal approaches to information,
  4. societal change in institutions and profession, and
  5. digital access to justice and governance.

Educating tomorrow’s lawyers

Technology is transforming the legal profession but lawyers aren’t going away: educating future lawyers on the matter is vital to guaranteeing a successful adaptation of legal technologies. We need broader collaboration both between students, professors, and researchers, and also across disciplines — computer science and digital humanities are equally relevant when researching law and technology. Courses offering research of legal technology and new applications of legal tech are a great way to get students excited about the subject. Exploring the depths of legal technology brings excitement of discovery like we haven’t seen in a while.

Future lawyers will graduate into a significantly different working environment than their peers in the past, which means that they need to understand the shift taking place in digitalized legal practices.

The Legal Tech Lab team consists of researchers and volunteers led by Riikka Koulu, the associate professor of law and digitalization at the University of Helsinki. The Lab encourages student initiative both in creating content and promoting entrepreneurship among students; our student volunteers have taken active roles in both our research activities as well as in organizing our events.

Our members come from a variety of backgrounds, all of us brought together by the interest in the intersection of law and technology. We also have a broad network of highly skilled legal professionals as part of our advisory board to support us and share their knowledge with us.

What have we been working on lately?

Legal Tech Conference: Friday, June 8, 2018 in Helsinki

In June 2017, we organized an international conference, Law and Digitalization — Rethinking Legal Services, which examined the intricate relationship between disruption and regulation in the context of legal digitalization.

This year’s conference, Legal Tech Con: How will AI shape the future of law?, will focus on artificial intelligence. On June 8th we are going to dig a bit deeper into the subject and its intersection with law. The event will have speakers with vast knowledge of both AI and law, who have spent years if not decades working on the matter.

Hack the Law! — a Legal Tech Hackathon: coming soon in October 2018

The year 2017 was busy for us: in addition to the conference, we also organized the first ever legal hackathon in Finland. The goal of the 2017 hackathon was to use technology and service design to find solutions related to the accessibility issues of legal knowledge. The hackathon turned out to be a success and we will return with our next Hack the Law! event in October 2018.

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This was merely a small introduction to the University of Helsinki Legal Tech Lab. There will be more posts related to our research and events organized by us. To keep yourself updated on the developments of legal tech in Finland, please subscribe and join us on this fascinating journey through intersections of law, technology and society.

More information about Legal Tech Con: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/conferences/legal-tech-con

Joonas Jämsä is a student volunteer at the Legal Tech Lab. Joonas is a fourth-year law student at the University of Helsinki interested in blockchain technology and fintech in general.